Court won't block debate on smoking bill

The Nevada Supreme Court refused Monday to block legislative debate on a bill that would ease terms of a voter-approved measure that banned smoking in many bars and other public places.

The high court said its intervention isn't warranted because "no amendment to the current statute has occurred." Justices added that until the Legislature actually approves SB372, any action it takes in the case would be premature.

The bill was approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee but still must win full Senate approval and then move to the Assembly for final legislative action.

SB372 softens the 2006 Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act to allow smoking in bars that serve food as long as minors are restricted from entry. Also, businesses could wall off separately ventilated smoking rooms.

As amended, the bill calls for fines of up to $1,000 for bar owners who fail to keep out minors. Also, the state health officer could designate local health authorities to enforce the act.

Lobbyists for bars, restaurants and casinos have told legislators that SB372 is needed because the 2006 ban has hurt many businesses and resulted in many Nevadans losing their jobs. But critics of the bill said public health takes precedence over smokers' rights.

The 2006 initiative prohibited smoking in restaurants and bars that serve food, in slot machine sections of grocery and convenience stores, and at video arcades, shopping malls, schools and day-care centers. Smoking is still allowed on gambling floors of casinos.

Kendall Stagg, one of the leaders of the 2006 initiative petition drive, asked the Supreme Court to halt legislative proceedings on SB372, arguing that the Nevada Constitution states that an initiative petition can't be amended, repealed or otherwise modified within three years from the date it takes effect.

In the case of the smoking ban which took effect in late 2006, he said that means nothing can be changed until the end of this year, when a full three years will have gone by.

Under Stagg's argument, lawmakers would have to wait until the next regular session in 2011, or take up the proposal during any special session that might be called in 2010.

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